The Secret of Highway House

Highway House is a name that, if things had been different, every one of you would have heard of, every one of you would marvel at and every one of you would know the story of. Why there might even have been a Highway House day, or a Lizzie McMorely day! But you don't and there isn't, and this is why.

Lizzie McMorely, newly graduated from Oxford, is recruited to train as an assassin at Highway House. But when sent out on her first ever mission; the assassination of Adolf Hitler, several factors Lizzie hasn't been trained for come into play: luck, betrayal and love.

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21. Air Raid

The following few days seemed to drag, Karl was mostly busy with work in preparation for the conference, and given her abandoning them on their shopping trip, she Lizzie no longer had Anneliese or Katja for company. So being alone in a foreign country, and also being aware that going out might mean tails, she stayed in her hotel room and read books. She began with newspapers and articles written on the homeless but after having pretty much finished her article (minus a comment from Hitler which she hoped he'd never get to make) in the first couple of hours she began on some of the romance novels that her roommates had insisted every normal girl carried round with them.
Eventually, five Jane Austen novels a Thomas Hardy classic and one book from each Brontë sisters later, Lizzie had had enough of moping indoors. It might be dangerous but it couldn’t get any more so than what she was planning to do less than a week’s time. With that thought in mind she grabbed her red trench coat and was about to head on out the door when she thought of the small pistol stowed away in her suitcase, it was better to be safe than sorry right, especially after her drugging? Stuffing it in the inside pocket of her coat she braved it outside. The wind whipped against her face and rain splattered across her cheeks as she walked down the street, it was really beginning to feel like winter. She wandered aimlessly around Berlin, not knowing where she was walking to and not really caring either. Despite the rain it was nice to be out of the hotel room.
Eventually it was getting dark and she knew she should really be getting back. She turned around and prepared to find her way back to the hotel when she heard a wailing noise. Except noise wasn’t really the right word, screeching would have been better, like a police car’s siren but a thousand times louder so that it echoed through the whole street and probably a good few miles around. She stood confused for a minute at the sound, then people started appearing from every nook and cranny, feet pounding out of every doorway, scrabbling sounds could be heard as locks were turned and doors were practically thrown off of their hinges as people flung them open and barged their way through. The street was filling with people all sprinting in the same direction: towards the underground train station. And as she stood and stared at masses of people running, with the screeching sound ringing in her ears she realised that this was what it was like to be in a real air raid, not like the one that day at the Houses of Parliament. And she started running. Piling herself into the underground she found a small corner a little way from the entrance that was not yet taken by people setting up camp for the night. It was lucky that she had got there when she did as before long the entirety of the floor space was covered by a sea of bodies either sat down or standing.
An hour or so later the first explosion came. It must have been a way off but the ground still shook all around them and the sound, the sound was terrifying. Lizzie could see so clearly in her mind the lives that had been shattered by the blast that echoed around Berlin. Several babies started crying, children buried their heads in their parents’ chests, whilst adults exchanged worried glances, wondering if their homes would still be there in the morning. Lizzie wanted to be a child again so that she could cry or scream, instead she kept her head down and huddled tighter into the corner where she was sat. Fifteen minutes went by, just enough time to lull the frightened Berliners and Lizzie into a false sense of hope that that was it, but it wasn’t. Another bomb hurtled through the sky somewhere in the distance and then another that could only have been a matter of streets away. The whole station trembled at the force and the deafening crash left a buzzing in her ears that just didn’t want to go away. This was the pattern of events it seemed during an air raid. People tried to act as if there was nothing wrong until a bomb struck and it was impossible to delude themselves any more, and Lizzie found herself falling into step with it all.
It must have been the early hours of the morning and Lizzie had just managed to fall asleep in between explosions when sharp bangs from within the underground woke her with a start. For a moment she was confused as to what had woken her when she heard it again; a loud bang followed by what sounded like the shattering of china. Someone was shooting at the tiles on the ceiling above them. Then there was shouting.
“She’s down here I’m sure of it.” An aggressive male voice hollered at someone. “Her tail saw her in the street opposite but when the sirens went off and she didn’t immediately move the stupid man ran for it into a shelter.”
Lizzie froze. They were talking about her.
The voice was joined by another and they were getting closer, she couldn’t stay here, what if they found her? Now that they had proof she had been involved in the incident on the train there’d be no more pulling her in for questioning she was sure. They’d shoot her dead if they had the chance. Pulling her hood to cover as much of her face as she could she prepared to make her move. Crouching as low as possible she made her way surreptitiously towards the exit. Not surreptitiously enough.
“There she is!” yelled the first man from somewhere behind her.
Lizzie didn’t waste time in turning around, she ran full pelt at the exit, flying up the stairs as bullets rained against the steps behind her. She made it out onto the street, except you couldn’t really call it a street anymore. By the light of the fires that were blazing across Berlin she could see that the buildings weren’t houses they were ruins, the roads weren’t tarmac they were rubble, it was impossible to imagine ordinary life here just a few hours ago. But Lizzie didn’t have time to imagine, she kept sprinting, stumbling over lumps of brick that she couldn’t see to avoid. They were behind her somewhere she knew, she could hear the odd shout or shot, at one point she felt a gust of wind against her cheek as a bullet whistled within inches of her. They must be gaining on her she knew, she couldn’t hold them off forever. Then bricks seemed to rain from the sky as almost the entirety of one side of the street collapsed, no longer able to withstand the damage that had been done to it. Lizzie ducked behind a mound of rubble that had built up a few metres from her. From her hiding place she saw one of the men dive behind a bin for cover but the other was too late. A large chunk of wall descended on him, burying him completely and making a thunderous crash. The other man glanced over at the where his colleague had been standing a few moments ago and gulped. Lizzie took her chance and ran.
He followed. They were sprinting through the streets of Berlin, small fires blazing around them. He fell at one point and Lizzie gained a few dozen metres before she tripped over the remains of some window frames lying across her path. He was gaining on her but the stream of bullets had slowed, clearly he must be running low and couldn’t afford to waste many more. They carried on running Lizzie started throwing things that were in her way behind her in an attempt to slow him down. And then the worst possible thing happened: she reached a dead end. It was an especially narrow street she had run down and a house on one side of the street had completely collapsed forming a wall of rubble blocking her path. It was quite high, she would have been able to climb it but she knew he was too close behind her; he would catch her before she had reached the top. There was a small fire in the middle of the street; large pieces of wood, unrecognisable as the pieces of furniture they had been, had caught fire. Lizzie ducked behind the flames, pulled her pistol from the inside pocket of her jacket and waited. He rounded the corner a few hundred metres from her and stopped when he couldn’t immediately see her. She took aim and fired. It missed. But in doing so she had given away her hiding place. The man began running again directly towards her, firing a couple of shots as he got closer causing her to duck multiple times. She fired twice more but the continuous screeching from the air raid alarms was disorientating her and she missed both times. He was getting closer now, she could see his small black eyes staring at her as he lifted his gun up once more and prepared to fire. She got her gun ready, she wouldn’t miss this time but nor would he. It was him or her.
Then the entire street blew up before her eyes.



Buzzing filled her ears. It was dark and cold. Her head throbbed and something wet was trickling down her cheek. A sudden weight hit her arm and she heard a snap. There was agonising pain and then nothing.

Light suddenly burned against her closed eyelids forcing them to open and then snap shut again as she was instantly dazzled by its intensity. Pain rushed back to her; her arm, her head. She tried to shake the buzzing from her ears but barely managed to twitch her neck when pain shot through it. Smoke was filling her lungs causing her to choke. The motion jolted her body for a moment until her limbs seized in pain and she swallowed the choking sensation back. Whatever was weighing her down was gradually getting lighter. Slowly she eased her eyes open but jumped when she saw a face right above her causing pain to shoot through her again. It was a man, not the same man that had been shooting at her, another man. He was smiling grimly at her and his mouth moved. It took her a minute to realise he was speaking to her, there was no sound coming from his mouth. The buzzing in her ears was all she could hear.
He could be someone else trying to kill her, she didn’t know, she couldn’t hear to deduce whether he was, nor could she move to do anything about it if he was an enemy, her gun had been blasted out of her hand by the explosion and was probably somewhere buried amongst the rubble anyway. The man was lifting pieces of rock that were apparently what was weighing her down though she couldn’t tilt her head to see. Eventually she couldn’t feel anything else on top of her; the pain in her arm seemed not to be coming from the rocks, and another man appeared. Between them they lifted her into the back of a van and lay her on the floor. Her heart started thumping, where were they taking her? They must be Gestapo agents, dragging her off somewhere. Her breathing became more and more rapid though it hurt her chest. She saw the flash of a needle cross her vision and the first man leaned over her. Her brain screamed at her body to do something but her limbs didn’t want to function. She felt a sharp stab in her arm and then her vision fogged over and slipped away from her.
She awoke with a start, shaking off her tiredness once she was awake enough to remember what had happened to her. They hadn’t killed her yet, why not? They’d had the perfect opportunity. Maybe they did want to question her after all, find out everything they could about Highway House for Mr Stantham was not a teacher so didn’t know hardly anything of the goings on there, and find out what she had done since, here in Germany. She sat up abruptly and the room span with the sudden rush of blood from her head. When the dizziness passed she realised exactly why they hadn’t killed her yet. She was sat in a crisp white bed needles sticking out of every bit of flesh she could see, but she wasn’t the only one. The room was lined with beds, people lying in every one of them and there was a man with a clipboard walking between them. She was in a hospital and the van from before must have been an ambulance. How silly she felt now! She must have been fairly concussed though she told herself, judging by how much her head hurt. The doctor came over, gave her some more painkillers and told her next time she should be quicker in getting to an air raid shelter.
“Yes sorry I will.” She nodded solemnly.
“Well you’ll be ready to be discharged in a few days anyway. Luckily you’ve just fractured your arm, not a break as we first feared. You’ll have to keep it in a sling while you’re here but then you should be fine. Other than that, a cut to the head and a covering of bruises but there’s nothing too serious. You were lucky.” He told her gravely. “A man we dug out of the rubble just ten foot from you was killed.” He carried on talking but whilst Lizzie nodded along she wasn’t really listening. He was dead, her pursuer. So for now at least, she hoped, she was safe.
She was discharged three days later as promised and whilst she looked more like a bare-knuckle fighter after a particularly bad fight than the glamorous Julia Wreath, what with her bruised and swollen face, since she hadn’t spoken to Anneliese and Katja since the incident in the department store at least she didn’t have any upcoming parties to worry about. On the other hand she no longer had a gun, and that was going to be a major problem with the press conference being just over a day away, so yet again she broke a key rule of being an assassin: never go back to the scene of an attack.
She was surprised that she still recognised the completely decimated street and it was easy to see how her pursuer had died by the foot high layer of bricks and rubble that carpeted the road. It was less easy to imagine how on earth she’d survived! She quickly found where she had been pulled out of the rubble; it stood out a mile from its surroundings as this crater carved out of the bricks was the only place where you could see the pavement. It took just half an hour of hunting through the bricks to locate the thankfully intact pistol that she had lost that night; it wasn’t far from where she’d been found. She breathed a sigh of relief on seeing it, grateful that she wouldn’t have to embark on another heist as she was sure she wouldn’t be so lucky second time round.
Everything was back in place ready for Thursday just as it had been before the air raid, except for the extensive bruising all over her which was still extremely painful to touch. Thankfully though, Karl still agreed to take her to the press conference with him. Whilst he initially voiced strong objections after hearing that she’d spent the last few days in hospital she refused to let him win and eventually he gave in.

 

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